TransAmerica Trail Ride: Tail of the Dragon Detour

Camping by Oklahoma hay bales and an unexpected ride to Deal's Gap.

bridge out sign on the TAT
For the TransAmerica Trail riders, signs like this are basically an invitation saying, “So, you think you can get through?”Dave Bramsen

Riding across the USA is no big deal, right? Well, how about doing it on mostly dirt roads? Yes, it’s been done before and we know three riders who are about to do it again. Dave Bramsen and his sons, Paul and Caleb, have packed three Hondas to travel across America by way of the TransAmerica Trail. The TAT is 5,200 miles of country dirt roads and trails connecting Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on the East Coast to Port Orford, Oregon, on the West Coast. Is this the ultimate way to see America? Follow along via Dave Bramsen's blog and see.

GPS is an essential piece of equipment for the TransAmerica Trail ride. To economize, the Garmin marine GPS MAPS 78 was a deal at $150. It survived 7,300 miles of handlebar violence and a storm or two. The screen isn’t large and zooming out leads to crunched up detail but it led us from coast to coast. It performed consistently when plugged into the bike’s 12-volt system, which is preferred over the built-in AA battery power.

With gpsKevin's $43 SD card, the 5,200-mile route was at hand to follow mile by mile. He has the route marked with sufficient points that you will be aware of as soon as you are 100 feet off course.

detours on the trail
This bridge was thoroughly blocked but the boys found a way into the creek and we crossed. Note bather in background and shallow creek.Dave Bramsen
burning trash on the trail
You see some odd stuff on long motorcycle adventures. Here’s one more I didn’t draw: Why do North Carolinians burn trash on their front lawns but South Californians don’t?Dave Bramsen

He did a 2016 GPS update but know this, oh land traveler: Lots of stuff happens to a route in a grand-sized land like ours under the vagaries of season and weather and gates and entropy!

Of many encounters, here are a few dead ends and detours:

• On our second day out, riding the charming curvy country roads of NC, we came to a Uwharrie River crossing. Impassibly high water had piled the west end of the bridge with trees and logs. (see our fourth video posting here). We had no option but to detour and find a route around to rejoin our gps route.

• On June 9, after four miles of dirt road off of Cades Cove, Tennessee, we encountered a locked gate. So, we seek a way around as we’ve learned many barriers are surmountable. But this gate to 9 Mile Parsons Branch Road, we learned, saved us from encounters with many fallen trees. Instead we did a 35-mile detour which took us on the famed Tail of the Dragon down to Deals Gap, a mecca for motorized speed aficionados. That was a cool and worthwhile detour. And, as a travel bonus, a bear ran out in front of us.

crane blocking the trail
Even with some scouting below, this North Carolina bridge was not getting crossed. Detour time.Paul Bramsen

• A few days later, we encountered a "bridge out" sign, but proceeded to investigate. The bridge was indeed, very out, blocked with a large berm of dirt and the first 10 feet of planking was gone. But, my boys found a path through the woods, into the water of Chambers Creek (Counce, TN) and up onto the other shore.

As a TAT rider, many incidents crop up that demand getting off your steed and scrutinizing, “Is there a way around?” There is no way the GPS developer can anticipate subsequent alterations in the landscape.

• And minutes from our mountain-top camp west of Glendale, Oregon, a hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean, we rounded a curve and a large yellow locked logging gate barred progress. We consider options (attempt dragging the 510-plus-pound Africa Twin on dirt and rocks beneath a narrow opening?) In the end, we retraced our steep path down the mountain and reconnected 12 miles down the road.

Puzzle-solving is all part of the trip.

Dave Bramsen
The North Carolina/Tennessee (in)famous Tail of the Dragon is a scenic, well-paved set of 318 curves in 11 miles. It invites regular errors in motorcycle control.tail of the dragon